To see, or not to see? That is indeed the question regarding
Michael Hoffman's rather disappointing and pedestrian adaptation of
Shakespeare's whimsical comedy about romance, mismatched lovers and a
little night magic. Unlike other directors, such as Baz Luhrmann and
his brilliant contemporary version of Romeo And Juliet, Hoffman
doesn't take any creative risks with the material, which results in a
workmanlike production. The only real change Hoffman makes is in
updating the play and relocating it to Tuscany, at the end of the 19th
century. It's a change that doesn't add much dramatically to the
film, but it does enable a number of the central characters to ride
around on "that new fangled invention", the bicycle.
Hermia (Anna Friel) is engaged to the handsome Demetrius
(Christian Bale), a match that pleases her straight laced father
(David Strathairn). However, Hermia really loves Lysander (Dominic
West), who comes from a lesser background. Meanwhile, Helena (Ally
McBeal star Calista Flockhart) actually loves Demetrius, but he barely
acknowledges her presence. These four lovers wander into the nearby
forest, which is the home of the fairy king Oberon (Rupert Everett).
They eventually fall under a magical spell cast by the mischievous
Puck (Stanley Tucci), which helps the four mismatched lovers solve
their problems. Also caught up in one of Puck's spells is Bottom
(Kevin Kline), an egotistical actor with an amateur theatrical company
which is rehearsing a play in the woods.
Hoffman's pacing is rather laboured, and the film offers
precious few laughs until the final twenty minutes or so. It is only
with the staging of the play within a play sequence that things really
pick up, and some much needed life is injected into the film.
Visually, the film is quite beautiful, and Oliver Stapleton's
typically lush cinematography of the Tuscan countryside is a major
The performances of the solid ensemble cast are mostly
workmanlike throughout, with most of the performers reciting their
lines without much passion or conviction. Kline is wonderful and
brings some energy to his role as the pompous and bombastic Bottom,
while the always solid Tucci shines as the mischievous Puck.
Shakespeare's comedy has been filmed before, most notably in
Warner Bros' impressive 1935 version featuring an all star cast headed
by James Cagney, making this pale and uninspired adaptation almost
Copyright © 1999 Greg King